04 September 2009

Rave Review: The Last Newspaper Boy in America

Before I start my review, I have two confessions. Confession No. 1: I know author Sue Corbett. Confession No. 2: I read all my newspapers on-line. Therefore, I am no doubt contributing to the demise of the printed press. However, it is not so much the death of the newspaper industry which is at the heart of this clever, engaging, and timely story. Rather, this is the story of Steele PA, a town that is dying and finds its fight for survival in the hands of one strong-willed paper boy. This is also the story of how a town is more than the sum of its parts. And, this is a story about paper clips.

The protagonist of the book is Wil David, a 12 year old boy who's family is at the heart of Steele; his great-grandfather founded the town when he invented a special type of hairpin and then built a factory to manufacture it at the start of the 20th century. Wil's family has also been responsible for delivering The Cooper County Caller to the good folks of Steele, a job which in itself has outlasted the hairpin factory. That is, until the publishers of The Caller feel that Steele is no longer a viable market and decides to cease delivery there. When Wil, who has no sooner taken over the job of paper boy from his elder brother Sonny, learns that he is soon to be unemployed, he takes it upon himself to reverse the decision. He's not called Wil of Steele for nothing. What starts as a campaign to save his job snowballs into a larger mission as Wil becomes caught up in the mystery of a fairground game laced with scandal, and the townsfolk try to decide what to do with the defunct hairpin factory.

The topic of dying towns has been covered before in children's literature--I think of Andrew Clements' Room One (2006,) for instance, where the inhabitants are faced with the prospect of busing their children far afield when keeping them in the one-room school house seems no longer viable. As in that book, a clever, observant boy helps to set up the solution. Because Wil himself is so focused on how the closure of the paper route will affect his own fortunes (he has plans to save for a laptop,) the enormity of the situation is not evident until about the middle of the book. As the bigger picture starts to take shape, Wil's plan to save not just his route, but Steele itself, becomes bolder.

This is one of those satisfying books where all the loose ends are tied up in a most pleasing manner. Wil is a big-hearted, believable character, surrounded by a supporting cast who, while not as clever or focused as he is, compliment him with strengths of their own. This is also a story told over various mediums: e-mail, fax, letter, even a school report, are used to move the narrative. And, of course, there are the newspapers--flung on porches each morning, consulted for jobs and news, making as well as bearing headlines. How Will galvanizes the people of Steele, propelling the action to is natural conclusion, is a feel-good story worthy of any publication.

2 comments:

Bri Meets Books said...

This one sounds awesome! I'll have to check it out. What a great yet sad novel to come out of this strange economic and shifting climate.

Kara Schaff Dean said...

I was struck by how timely it was, when you consider that the publishing progress starts so far in advance. As I mention, I know the author--in an on-line sense--from a few years back when I reviewed her previous book, "Free Baseball" for SLJ. I highly recommend that one, too (and not just cause my review is blurbed on the paperback edition!) Not only does the book deal with the less than glamorous world of minor league baseball, which sets it apart from other sports books, but it, too, is a book which on the surface appears to be about one topic (baseball) but is really about human connections.

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